For Nisshoku, with love.
* * *
All's Fair in Love and War
* * *
Wat isn't sure at first. He could believe anything of Chaucer, but this would be low, even for him.
But he watches. He lies in wait. He's cunning. He's good at cunning, whatever Chaucer might say about his hair being only marginally less blazing than his lack of subtlety. There are quite a few deer belonging to the King that would disagree with Chaucer, or at least they would if they weren't dead.
Wat knows all about stealth.
Chaucer doesn't, because Chaucer is -- shamelessly, right there in broad daylight, in front of God and all His angels, without fear of retribution -- stealing Wat's food.
Low, low --
* * *
"He's nicking my food!" said Wat, but Will is bloody boring when he's in love. He doesn't even look up.
"I'm sure you're just imagining it," he says.
"I'm not imagining it!" Wat shakes a sausage in Will's face, but he doesn't seem to notice. "I saw him with my own eyes this morning, sticking his fonging fingers into my cream puffs!"
"You let him?" says Will.
"He ran off before I could get at him!" Wat bites off a chunk of sausage for emphasis. "They were all over holes! There wasn't hardly any cream left!"
But Will has lost interest. He bends over his breastplate again.
"Then tell him to stop doing it," he says.
"You tell him," says Wat. "He'll listen to you! Will, he's starving me out, he's worse than a plague of rats, I'm wearing down to skin and bone, I -- will you fonging stop polishing your bloody armour? Jocelyn doesn't care if she can't see her face in it; it's what's under it she's after--"
"Adhemar's breastplate always shines," says Will, with that odd breathless intensity he puts on whenever he thinks Wat should take him seriously.
"Oh, that explains it," says Wat, and then Will really does chase him off.
* * *
Kate hits metal things with a hammer while she listens.
"But why would Geoff steal your food?" said Kate. "We've got more than enough to go around, after that last tournament."
"I don't know! Who knows what he thinks he's doing?" Wat sits down and stares grimly into the distance. "He's after me. That's the only explanation."
Kate snorts in a way even his own dear mother wouldn't have, and mutters something that sounds like,
"Now you get it."
"What?" says Wat.
"I think you'd better ask him why he's doing it," says Kate.
"Watch me," says Wat. "I'll ask him, all right. I'll ask him till his eyes pop out and his dirty -- thieving -- hair -- falls off, and he, he--"
Kate has to put down the hammer and hit him on the back a couple of times before he calms down enough to breathe again. This completely messes up the metal things, and Kate barely waits for him to finish his glass of water before kicking him out. The look she gives him when he asks if he could borrow her hammer makes Wat's life pass before his eyes. He assures himself he wouldn't have run otherwise.
Wat really could have used that hammer, too.
* * *
Roland just says,
"Bugger off, Wat, there's a good lad."
The whole world's against him.
* * *
They hang thieves. Wat shouts this after Chaucer's rapidly retreating back. It doesn't help -- who knew the skinny bastard could run so fast? -- but it makes Wat feel a little better.
He didn't know what a writer was when he first met Chaucer, and several months later, he still doesn't know. But he's pretty sure being a writer has got to do with gambling, and lying, and stealing, and wearing stupid coats, and swaggering around like nobody's got any right to unless they own God's earth, or their legs aren't properly attached to the rest of them.
A writer is, in fact, a prat in need of a good fonging. Many good fongings. Wat lingers lovingly over the thought of giving Chaucer one. The memory of the howls, the frantic energy, the tangle of limbs -- skin slapping against skin, smell of sweat in his nostrils, quick gasping in his ears -- it makes his palms damp and the world tilt.
Wat wants, he wants to beat Chaucer up. He misses it. He misses it especially when he sees Chaucer cheerfully licking the crumbs of Wat's breakfast off his dirty writer's fingers.
What's he doing, really? Chaucer isn't interested in food. Chaucer likes dice. He likes quills, and ink, and showing off in front of a crowd. That's all right by Wat; can't everyone be interested in the same things, and it just means the more food for him. He's not a demanding man. All he wants is to have his breakfast in peace.
Chaucer won't let him do that.
So Chaucer is after him. He's got an ulterior motive. He's bent on keeping this up until he drives Wat insane, whereupon he will -- he will -- well, Wat isn't sure what Chaucer will do, but it's probably something only a writer would be able to imagine anyway.
Chaucer pretends it's just a game. He yells from a safe distance,
"What's a little food between friends?"
"Some friend you are!" shouts Wat, but Chaucer vanishes in a flurry of limbs.
"He's no friend of mine," Wat says to Roland. Roland looks thoughtful.
"That's not the word they use for it, true," he says.
Wat kicks a tent pole.
"What's he after? Why can't he let me alone?"
"That's not for me to answer," says Roland. "You'd best wait a while. I'm sure he'll get over it."
"Get over what?" says Wat.
"Yes," says Roland.
* * *
Chaucer is waiting.
He's waiting for an epiphany to hit Wat, which would be a nice change from Wat hitting him all the time.
Some would say he's mad for standing the repeated abuse at the hands of a belligerent peasant, but Will's off-limits and Roland is in love and Kate's a woman with a vocation. And Chaucer might be a little bit in love with all of them, but he's always had a thing for red hair.
Others would say he's conducting his courtship in an extremely irregular manner, but Chaucer understands these things. Romance flows from his pen; lovesick women confide in him; golden-haired young knights ask him for advice in love and poetry. He's an expert in love.
And if you ask him, in his expert opinion, people underestimate the lost art of yanking pigtails.
Chaucer can wait. He's got time.
And Wat has a lot of tansy cakes.